Story by Sara Paul
What does it mean to be human? What makes one feel truly alive? These are just some of the ponderings of Warwick’s own Beverly Braxton. Educator, mentor, counselor, community activist, mother and intense thinker, this unstoppable woman says what she feels no matter what the outcome.
“Sometimes I step into stuff I don’t want to step into, but I’m drawn to the complexity of whatever is pulling at me…I’m always asking ‘why,’ and that causes problems when people don’t want you to ask questions,” said Braxton, as she looks back on four decades of thoughtful and tenacious work in every aspect of her life.
Whether it’s the Partners in Education (PIE) Program she helped pioneer nearly 40 years ago or forming Family Central, an all-volunteer, non-profit Parenting Support organization, Braxton is constantly exploring ways to support her community, particularly parents and children who are navigating through some pretty tough waters.
Braxton, who still writes curriculum work for the District, acts as a substitute teacher and generates parenting programs for Family Central at the Albert Wisner Library. This March, Braxton will be honored by the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. Upsilon Tau Chapter for her distinguished community service.
Orange County Mediator
Prior to teaching, she was trained as an Orange County Mediator and served in the village courts of Warwick, Greenwood Lake and Florida to resolve family and neighbor disputes recommended by the Village Justice.
Founding the PIE Program
In the early 1980s, Braxton joined forces with a small group of parents and educators to come up with a different kind of classroom experience, multiage education.
After three years of carefully designing a program modeled on progressive principles, Braxton and friends were proud to unveil the PIE program to the District.
The program, which continues to be a popular classroom option, places a strong emphasis on problem solving and critical thinking, project-based learning, and nature appreciation. Parents are encouraged to help out in a variety of ways and any specific skills and talents are welcomed. PIE classes are multiage, blending students of two grade levels.
Braxton values in particular, “… the social emotional component as well as the multi-age component… it sets up a structure that is more real in a sense, because in real life we are all interacting with people of multiple ages. Children have strengths and weaknesses and a benefit of PIE is a child can work at their own achievement level according to their ability rather than their age.”
The PTA Challenge
It was not until years later at Park Avenue Elementary that the concerned and devoted educator learned how much she benefited from her mediation training. During the 1997-98 school year the PTA was having some difficulties and lost its leadership.
“I felt strongly that we could not have a school without a PTA; it just doesn’t look good. After speaking with the principal, I took it on because I felt it was the right thing to do,” remembers Braxton, who, as a teacher at Park Avenue at the time, decided that her role in the PTA would have to bring real substance.
Conducting some serious research, Braxton looked into the actual purpose of a PTA, such as how and why the groups came about.
“I found that PTAs are about activism and securing the safety of children and families,” she reported.
Conflict Resolution & Creating MEAD
Incapable of performing at a “just enough” level, Braxton created a leadership development workshop for parents and educators that was quite successful and lead to revitalization of the PTA.
“If I’m going to take on a problem, I’m going to use a holistic approach. I was trying to address things that mattered, like moving beyond the conflict and learning how to communicate better,” stated Braxton, who started meeting with parents once a month, looking at issues of class, race, gender, and other social challenges that parents were grappling with.
She called the effort, M.E.A.D. (Mediation, Education, Advocacy, and Dialogue), and focused on group dynamics and helping others become better communicators.
“That was very exciting, and MEAD was important because what I thought was missing was also something others wanted to talk about, too. It affirmed that I could speak out loud about my personal truths and they were actually of value to people,” she said.
The Peace Wall
After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Braxton recognized the challenge of addressing the confusion her students were experiencing. Witnessing their parents crying and unable to process what they were hearing and seeing in the media, fears and anxieties loomed.
“I knew I would have to go deeper and be real and talk to them about how they were feeling. Listen, nobody told me when I was kid that what you are most afraid of you have to face,” commented Braxton.
The result of the meaningful talks was a nod to creating a memorial for peace on the grounds of Sanfordville Elementary School. Established in 2003, the project took two years to complete and was supported by families and local businesses.
“The town was devastated, and this brought people together,” Braxton said.
Visit www.Peacewallmemorial.org for more information.
The Birth of Family Central
Shortly before retiring in 2010, Beverly started noticing that “kids were growing up way too fast.”
She observed students in third and fourth grades wearing make-up and cologne and generally being “consumed by things they shouldn’t have to be thinking about at eight or nine years old…it wasn’t healthy.”
Braxton’s concerns continued as she listened to parents expressing some of the many challenges they faced that felt both serious and hopeless.
“People would say ‘there’s nothing you can do about it,’ but I can’t live like that. If something bothers me, I have to address it,” declared Braxton, who realized, “I needed to do something bigger.”
“I decided that this had to be a community conversation, but I also thought, ‘this is so hard, how can I do this?’” she said.
So, Beverly faithfully and bravely stayed on her course, writing letters to local politicians, law enforcement personnel, and school and church leaders, to name a few.
“I asked what they saw happening to kids in the next five to ten years, and they didn’t have any answers. I knew that we didn’t have to have the answers; we just had to raise the questions,” she said.
Braxton held a town meeting at the Albert Wisner Public Library in Warwick to ask questions about how to better support families in the community. With only 30 registered guests, she was nervous about how many would actually attend. That afternoon, more than 90 people came out.
Intense and candid group discussions and concerns led to the birth of Family Central, now a well-known organization in Warwick. Learn more at www.familycentralny.com.
Warwick Working Together
Starting in 2016, Beverly began working with the Albert Wisner Library to develop and facilitate public discussions on matters of community concern. The idea for community conversations emerged after the Blue Line controversy. The back and forth letters to the editor and the very heated Village Board Meeting highlighted for Braxton the need to find a more productive way to solve community differences. Since that time, Braxton has facilitated a series of workshops to explore issues of race, the opioid crisis, and our identity as Americans.
Personal & Professional Lives Intertwined
Beverly Braxton was born on Oct. 28, 1947 and raised in Philadelphia, PA.
As a young person, looking back, she candidly states, “I raised questions that I got in trouble for, but it was based on curiosity. I got punished for talking about the elephant in the room that I shouldn’t mention, and I was terrified of saying what I thought was needed to be said.”
Living through the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements, Braxton also broadened her horizons as she hitch-hiked across Europe at age 22 on her own. It was a journey that “changed [her] life and perspective about what’s possible.”
When Beverly met her husband Marvin, his interest in a spiritual group in Warwick brought the couple to the Hudson Valley. They settled in Warwick in 1973.
For a short time, Beverly worked at St. Anthony Community Hospital in the nursery, before returning to school at SUNY Empire State College in New Paltz, where she earned a Bachelors of Science degree in Education, and then a Master’s of Science degree in Education from Hunter College in 1983.
Braxton began her Warwick career in education at Pine Island Elementary School, before moving to Park Avenue Elementary School. She was part of the parent cooperative Amity School and also an adjunct at SUNY New Paltz.
Beverly and Marvin were married for 40 years and have two children, Amadee, now 49, and Symeon, now 44. Marvin passed away in 2008 at age 64 due to an aortic aneurism.
Beverly officially retired in 2010, though she is far from inactive in the community’s educational arena as she regularly mentors new PIE teachers, parents and students. She cherishes her home, where she enjoys gardening and reading.
“I get pleasure in meeting people one on one and seeing ways in which I can support them, and I also love children,” said Braxton, who is always reading books about the challenges of parenthood.
“My on-going passion is to try to help parents, giving them the sense that they don’t have to have all the answers but just assuring them that communicating and connecting to their child is the most essential thing we can do as parents.”
Lessons & Reflections
Her go-to quote to live by is from the Gospel of Thomas: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
In this context, she says, “I want people to understand that everyone has something we’re here to do, and when we’re not doing that we are working against who we truly are, and that’s tragic. You find ways to avoid doing what you have to do, and that’s the manifestation of not trusting that you’re going to be ok.”
Beverly’s resonating message is one to be accepted, processed, and digested: “There are people walking around who don’t know how they impact other human beings, positively and negatively. People don’t know that they are gems and have gems in them… We need to stop beating ourselves up for our imperfections. There’s more good in the world than bad, and there’s so much beauty in the world.”